HERO — noun: A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities
Words by David J. Young | Photos by Olaoluwa Aworinde
There is nothing more sacred than human life. Whenever one is lost it is a terrible tragedy — whether it is that of a farmer, a herder, a Muslim, a Christian, a Berom or a Fulani. In the past two years, I have traveled thrice to Plateau, as well as to Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto, Edo, and Niger States. In each of these places, I have seen the costs of the terrible violence that has touched so many people in rural parts of Nigeria. Innocence has been killed, communities are torn apart, people displaced from their homes and families are mourning their loved ones.
At the same time as I have witnessed tragedy, I have seen people who work for peace. I have met those who’ve put their lives on the line to protect others in their community. I would like to introduce to you one of Nigeria’s heroes, a very special person who has touched my life and indeed touched my heart in my visits last year to Plateau state. I would like to introduce to you the 83-year-old chief Imam of Nghar village in Barkin Ladi LGA, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar. I’m going to tell you a story about this wonderful Imam and the lifesaving work he has done because I think many people in this country don’t know about this extraordinary man.
It was about nine months ago that the village of Inyar was invaded by armed men. They came early in the morning on motorbikes armed with AK47’s, and machetes. With those machetes they killed people. They burned down houses. Of a village of one thousand people, 84 lost their lives. Women and men and children who perished because of the hatred and evil of young men who were misguided in their views of the world. But during this terrible tragedy, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar and his Fulani assistant did some extraordinary things.
When the invaders started shooting and hacking, people went running by the hundreds to save their lives. Two hundred and sixty two people ran to the town’s mosque. Though mostly Christians and/or Berom, the Imam and his assistant Imam brought them into the mosque and shut the door. Imam Abdullahi brought people into his house next door. Then the Imam and his assistant went and stood outside.
As armed men came to their doors the imam and his assistant said: “you cannot come in, you will have to kill us to go inside”. Imam Abdullahi then got down on his knees in the dust and pleaded with these armed men to turn away, to spare the lives of innocent people, and his community, his friends that he had known for years. Christians whom he had celebrated Christmas with as they had celebrated Sallah with him. Because of their friendship and their commitment and their brotherhood and sisterhood, he risked his life and today more than 300 people are alive because those armed men turned away. I have traveled to over 80 countries and rarely have I met a man like Imam Abdullahi.
Those who work for peace, are not just of one group or another. They are not just Muslim, they are not just Christian, they are not just from one group or state. They are individuals who stand up for good and fight evil. Imam Abdullahi is an inspiration and a challenge to all of us. Do we take risks for peace and protect people from other communities? Think about what that would mean to the country and the world. The cycle of violence and attacks and reprisals and counter reprisals take horrific tolls, both Christians and Muslims have been killed. Working for peace can save lives, and that is the most sacred thing in the world.
This is a very religious country. A country of faith where children of Abraham, brothers, and sisters who follow two of the world’s great religions — Christianity and Islam — submit themselves to worship and prayer each week, each day. And they submit themselves to work for peace and love and justice. But sometimes we see that there are people who really put their faith into action. For me, that’s a reminder that the most important thing we can do is to work for these eternal principles. My hope is that for all of us we can be worthy of the kind of sacrifice that these two Imams and many others who work for peace in Plateau state take regularly. I have heard these stories of different peacebuilders and my hope is that each of us can do our part to work for peace, to find common ground and to bring an end to the violence.